Contrary to Peter Bell’s “The myth of big returns for public investment” (June 1), the return on preschool investment is not a myth, based on the 40-year research by the Abecedarian and HighScope Perry Preschool studies.
The Carolina Abecedarian project reports that when its participants reached the age of 21, 36 percent of those graduating from the early-intervention program were enrolled in a four-year college, compared with 14 percent in the control group.
Children who participated in the early-intervention program had higher cognitive test scores from the toddler years to age 21; academic achievement in both reading and math were higher from the primary grades through adulthood; children were older, on average, when their first child was born.
Mothers whose children participated in the program achieved higher educational and employment status than mothers whose children were not in the program. These results were especially pronounced for teen mothers.
The HighScope Perry Preschool Study on Lifetime Effects: The HighScope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40 (2005) focused on the lives of 123 children born in poverty and at high risk of failing in school. From 1962-67, at ages 3 and 4, the subjects were randomly divided into a program group that received a high-quality preschool program based on HighScope’s participatory learning approach and a comparison group who received no preschool program.
In the study’s most recent phase, 97 percent of the study participants still living were interviewed at age 40. The study found that adults at age 40 who had the preschool program had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.
Locally, Mary T. Wellcome Child Development Center (MTW) is the oldest continuously operating child development center in Minnesota, established in 1929, licensed in 1945, accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children in 2009 and four-star rated by Parent Aware. Ninety-eight percent of MTW graduates over age 6 have tested ready for kindergarten. Their school success is rated significantly higher than the Minnesota average of about 50 percent.
Among the success stories of MTW graduates is a successful Twin Cities-area attorney who has provided legal representation for the Minneapolis Public Schools. He is the former co-chair of the African American Leadership Forum’s education committee and is now a member of the Harvest Preparatory School team. Another graduate is a Metro State University faculty member who today serves on a Phyllis Wheatley Community Center volunteer committee whose goal is to establish a community classroom for interested residents to earn their bachelor’s degree in preschool child development.
Another MTW graduate is the top reader in his second-grade Minneapolis Public Schools classroom, well on his way toward continued education success with the support of his family, teachers and community.
The investment in preschool education provides social and economic returns on investment and supports human development.
Barbara Milon is executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center.